This article first ran on May 27, 2011 at IdLovetoSayIt.com
Consider the bubble of sameness popped, its comfort zone collapsed.
Baseball needs to end this.
Hits on catchers, like the one that sidelined Giants behind-the-plate man Buster Posey for at least eight weeks, aren’t part of the game. I'm not sure where the purists argument comes from, being that baseball isn’t a contact sport.
Baseball needs to realize what it isn’t—of football and hockey and rugby machismo—especially given the collateral damage.
Posey headlines baseball’s next generation of promising position players. (Save for Tim Lincecum, maybe the best player period.)
The 24-year-old has a ring (Atlanta’s Jason Heyward doesn’t), notoriety (Mike Stanton is getting there, but stuck in Florida) and personality like no one else.
Is that expendable?
What about fan followings? Baseball’s slump, compared to the NFL and NBA, starts in the depth of its talent pools, as shallow as a puddle of Paris Hilton, all the way down to Little League. Without marketable stars like Posey rounding base paths, fans will change channels and sponsors won’t crack checkbooks.
Should MLB legislate catcher collisions out of the game?
That kills the sport.
And are plays at the plate even worth it? Baseball can be as about as exciting as Grandma playing bocce ball sometimes, and those close calls invigorate games.
But if losing athletes like Posey is the cost, that’s a deal-breaker.
A rule change would come a little late for Ray Fosse, the buoyant Red Sox catcher whose career ended with a Pete Rose barreling at the 1970 All-Star Game.
But it might spare Joe Mauer, another among baseball’s brightest.
Both are small-market spenders, infinitely valued by their teams. For that reason, Posey and Mauer (Minnesota Twins) matter more to baseball, hampered by flaky fans outside its New Yorks and Bostons (really the only two) and a lack of parity.
With Posey out until August, San Francisco’s competitiveness is undermined. Without a repeat World Series winner from a small-market team since 1992-93 (Toronto), baseball’s casual fan following—crucial in ratings and attendance and every metric that matters—fades.
Amending the rules here isn’t buckling or bending or compromising. Protecting players—the money makers—is what leagues do. It’s as woven into the business model as accounts receivable. Baseball’s already light years behind the curve in innovation (still limited instant replay) and implementation (after far too long a demand).
It doesn’t have to be in protection. The NFL just redefined defenseless-player clauses in its rulebooks, expanding to protect quarterbacks (important), wide receivers (important by association) and punters and kickers (just plain vulnerable) from unnecessary knocking around.
Baseball can legislate these hits out of the game, and pretty simply.
Remember: at no other juncture can a player block a base. If impeding isn’t allowed at second and third base—which are equally important given their runner-in-scoring-position distinction—then why let it fly at home?
Remove catchers from the line of fire, and get them out of the umpire's field of vision. Think of how many times in the past month you fumed over a blown call at the plate. Now whittle that number in half and smile, the likely effect of a less cluttered plate for umps to make more definitive and accurate calls.
Anybody against that is either falling off their rocker or already on the ground.
There will be a fair amount of that, at least initially. Baseball’s been bound by its traditionalists for decades—maybe since its inception.
Guess what: That hasn’t been for the better.
So react. Change. Make this—living in the era of the day—the new norm. Let this be the tipping point, when baseball breaks from the shackles of its aged and soured and shallow-pocketed core.
Taking contact out of the game won’t lure America’s twenty-somethings. But through part of a conscious and circulated initiative—that includes implementing replay and working harder toward re-instituting baseball’s Olympic status—baseball could rest on a mattress of the masses.
Want to talk about cozy? How comfy is that?